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Creativity

Creativity

by Marco M. Pardi

When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for the famed teacher, Diogenes replied: ‘Only stand out of my light.’ Perhaps some day we shall know how to heighten creativity. Until then, one of the best things we can do for the creative men and women is to stand out of their light.” John W. Gardner.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” Albert Einstein

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” William James, MD. On Thinking. Lecture. 1907

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply so please create your own.

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Since my childhood was dominated by religious people who droned on and on that “God created everything, from nothing”; that we are all “God’s creatures”; and, that we should appreciate “creation” I’m inclined to react with gale force flatulence on hearing anything rooted in “creation”, creativity included. But of late I’ve softened my views, holding the ill winds in abeyance.

I still bristle at the suggestion of something from nothing since quantum mechanics do support my philosophical insistence that the presence of a state, such as nothingness, demands and therefore manifests the co-existence (even if undetectable) of somethingness, the classic Hsiang Sheng (Mutually Arising) of Tao. Thus, the assumed pre and post relationship of one to the other is negated, each by the concurrent presence of the other; At Onceness is manifest.

These thoughts on the nature of being are most commonly associated with philosophical discussions, often going until the morning light. But while many discussion participants cite – or drop, depending on your perspective, famous philosophers’ names, increasing numbers of scientists are making their presence known in ways more rooted in their philosophical origins. This should not be surprising. After all, until very recently in our history what we call science was known formally as philosophy.

One such philosopher/scientist I have been revisiting is William James MD Harvard (1842 – 1910), considered the Father of American Psychology. A recent book spoke of the people you would want to meet “in heaven”. James and I agree there is no heaven, but I sure would want to spend some “time” in discussion with him.

James saw the self as a composite of four elements: the Material Self, things that identify a person; the Social Self, the various roles we adopt; the Spiritual Self, our core identity; and, the Pure Ego, the soul or mind. Of these four, the Pure Ego is the most inaccessible to scientific analysis. And while creativity, if loosely accepted as the presentation of new and even unique features, can be accepted in any of the other three elements, its origins lie in the Pure Ego. This position then challenges the apparently presumptuous act of judging someone’s creativity.

For example, in prep school and undergraduate college my Humanities classes included sections on “music appreciation”. I very certainly appreciate certain music, but I am utterly unable to grip how and why a person devises sounds the way they do. I could not appreciate what a composer was supposedly trying to convey. I knew only what I liked, and disliked. The same held for the visual arts and I have often wondered at the commentary from fellow gallery visitors as they viewed what I had assumed were the same paintings I had just seen. In fact, I asked art professors and artists I knew how anyone could judge art. Invariably, they pointed to technique. But I felt this did not address “creativity”.

But the worst affronts came in my college literature classes. The class was challenged to identify the “Christ figure” in each of the assigned literary works. While others debated I repressed the urge to ask: Did anyone contact the author and ask? I could just imagine the authors’ response: WTF are you talking about?! And, when I asked how certain famous writers could get away with such miserable grammar I was told, It was their style. So why test for grammar at all?

James excoriated organized religion, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud, religion for its sellout to autocratic politicians, Darwin for failing to counter the Tooth & Claw ethic which gave rise to Social Darwinism and the ethic of a pointless universe, and Freud for his abysmally unscientific presumptuous hierarchy of Super Ego, Ego and Id. The Darwinian and the Freudian schools were both based in an inescapably negative view of human action, the former in mechanical determinism, the latter in the cursed birthright of aggressive instincts and drives.

While in graduate school I maintained my cross-cultural interest in how cultures devise religious delusions and I applied myself to studies of evolution and genetics. Unfortunately, the internationally famous professor, Dr. Jules Henry, under whom I had come to study Psychological Anthropology lingered and died after a major stroke and the other significant professor, Dr Pertti Juto Pelto, returned to Cornell. As a University Scholar, Research Assistant, and Teaching Assistant I continued their work and took the opportunity to meet with a practicing Freudian Psycho-Analyst in St. Louis. Although she fully informed me of the principles and techniques underlying her discipline I left her company with a certainty that Freud had serious issues and that my imaginary Id was not plotting to draw me into varied and nefarious bumfuckery.

James, however, seemed onto something. Among the first to separate mind from brain, he proposed mind as an amorphous field-like entity capable of exchanging information with other minds, even unknowingly. This immediately put sense to the word inspiration, deriving literally from the idea of some thoughts coming in through infusion from an immaterial (spiritual) source. Okay, here some may want to imagine a God whispering in the ear. I do not. But we certainly have examples of “coincidence”, such as Darwin and Wallace independently and simultaneously coming up with evolution from “lower to higher” life forms.

James also explored visualization, the effect the mind has on the universe of probabilities. That is, the role of the observer in the manifestation of the observed. In this he was perhaps a century ahead of modern physics. Just for fun, consider Edgar John Rubin’s Ambiguous Figure Vase.*

As an observer, what do you see? Have you created two faces, or one vase? And who can say your choice is incorrect?

Of course, just as Social Darwinism arose from Darwinian evolution and pop psychology from Freudian fantasies, the Visualization fad arose from James’ insights and the growing realization of the observer effect which was becoming obvious in physics. The Creative Visualization Workbook : Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life by Shakti Gawain became one of the more influential books in this development. Since its publication I have wondered how many purchasers have tried to visualize getting their money back. The take away is: Imagining doesn’t make it so. Staring at your bank balance will not enable you to pay the mortgage.

The saying, “There’s nothing new under the Sun” recently gained new life with the publication of Biocentrism : How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Bob Berman and Robert Lanza. Saying essentially that all life forms are of equal moral standing and that life creates the universe, Biocentrism is fundamental to several ancient and current religions, Jainism the most pronounced. Yet Biocentrism relies heavily on our quickly growing understanding of quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. In ways it is also dependent on the insights of William James, proposing the interconnectedness of all life consciousness such that particular and specific origins for ideas, or “creations”, are difficult if not impossible to ascribe. It is the umbra surrounding the person who, when asked how he or she arrived at a particular inspiration simply says, “I don’t know. It just came to me.”

Nonetheless, we still reward what we call creativity. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemical engineer who combined existing elements and invented dynamite, established the foundation which awards prizes across a broad spectrum of fields. But are these given for creativity or for inventiveness? If we distinguish these concepts by saying inventiveness is the reconfiguration of existing elements into a new package which can be used in a way the pre-existing elements could not, should there not be equal credit given to the existence of the elements? For example, words are elements. They exist. Is the Nobel Prize for Literature an award for inventiveness or for creativity? Does a visual artist merit a prize for arranging perceptible elements creatively or inventively? And upon what basis do Juries, whether for literature or visual art, make their award selection? Who, with anything greater than their own subjectivity, can tell you your painting is amateur or your short story is nonsense? And by the same token, who can tell you your work is creative?

I’ve often said, If you are willing to take the credit you should be willing to take the blame. The same holds true when understanding one’s role in the unfolding of the universe.

Marco M. Pardi QoD:

“I don’t believe in anything . . . belief is when questions stop.”

11.13.13

Marco M. Pardi QoD:

“Don’t believe a word I say.”

8.22.12

ON TARGET

On Target

by Marco M. Pardi (second release, with updated information)

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly. The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use. I will certainly look forward to your comments.

The text below should in no way be construed as advocating or providing a “how to” on the taking of life. The purpose is to counter the simplistic and misleading media portrayals that make violence appear clean, easy and of little consequence. (Marco M. Pardi)

Real events of carjacking, robbery, murder and home invasion played repeatedly on daily news programs, Hollywood blockbusters, and video games have a tendency to coalesce, especially when they describe and/or portray violence. Marketing and sales data consistently show sudden spikes in weapons purchases immediately following spectacular shooting incidents. Motivation for these purchases seems to swing from fear the weapons will be banned – even confiscated to visceral fear of being the next victim if unprotected by firearm ownership. Enthusiasts, regardless of the purpose for which they own firearms, have noted in recent years that ammunition, especially for certain types of firearms, is scarce to simply unavailable. Yet, while certain firearms may be banned, outright confiscation is a most unlikely scenario. And, as will be presented below, visceral motivation for purchase is commonly a prelude to tragedy.

Video games, films and television – albeit based on “true events” in some cases, and even most of the better news coverage fail to address realities concurrent to and subsequent to the events portrayed. The sales have been made, the tickets sold, the sponsors pleased and it’s on to the next item. Let’s look at these portrayals, beginning with hand-to-hand and ranging to remote sniper activity.

Despite their fearsome reputation, formal martial arts are appropriately named; they are art forms with the added characteristic of enabling the performer to disable, subdue, and possibly kill an opponent. Because they are so heavily formalized they are predictable. They are impressive in matches, but often of little use in confrontations. Alternatively, some military and intelligence officer trainees are schooled in “Physical Apprehension and Restraint Techniques”, a program which appears to be basic “mixed martial arts”. These techniques enable the user to disable and disarm opponents armed with knives and, if close enough, firearms. A very select subset of these trainees are schooled in a lethal fighting form known as Krav Maga. Training is largely non-contact since each move is calculated and designed to break bones or rupture organs. These officers are further trained in an arcane preparation to recognize and use any common item which comes to hand such as a playing card, a ballpoint pen, or a plastic drinking straw to inflict lethal damage. These training programs are choreographed to enable the students to engage in unprotected full contact just short of lethality. Outcomes commonly include periods of recovery from severe bruising, even broken bones.

Media viewers are treated to the fancy moves, but not the grueling preparation and the painful aftermath. Media viewers are also commonly treated to images of the good guy rendering a guard unconscious and then moving on to the objective. Only a fool leaves a guard unconscious, liable to awaken at any moment and sound the alarm. Once down, the guard is silently killed.

Schooling in the use of the fighting knife begins with understanding the parts of the knife and what the knife can and cannot do. Films often show someone throwing a knife at an opponent, it sticking in, and the opponent folding over in death – as if the human torso is merely a sandbag into which any knife will immediately stick and kill. Throwing one’s knife is the dumbest thing one can do. The crossbar bisecting the wrapped grip tang and the sharpened blade tang is there, not for sword dueling but for keeping the hand from slipping down the grip onto the blade when one plunges the knife and encounters bone. It also assists when twisting the knife to maximize tissue and blood vessel damage. It is common that one has to grip and hold the opponent while inserting the knife repeatedly. Expect to come away bloodied. An option for those unable to obtain a firearm yet wanting an alternative to a knife is the bladed weapon commonly known as a Bolo Machete. Shorter than the average machete, it provides a powerful strike without the risk of being too cumbersome in close quarters. Users must be sure the machete is equipped with a wrist strap, which ensures it will not slip from or be knocked from one’s grasp.

The proper use of the garrote, a device for strangling the opponent, requires training in the positioning of the arms, a technique commonly misrepresented in media. Improper positioning of the arms prior to application of the garrote can result in a wrestling match with unpleasant consequences. The best garrotes are single braided wire. In addition to strangulation, they frequently cut through the jugular vein and the carotid artery spraying blood until the heart stops beating.

Recent decades have seen an alarming rise in the sale of firearms for “home defense”. As a backdrop, media portraying police or military searching a home or taking up defensive positions within the home show exactly the wrong way to go about it. It is hard to decide if this is done out of ignorance or out of some misguided belief that they should not show the correct way. News clips pertaining to the purchasing trends sometimes show people, usually women, wearing hearing protection and firing pistols or revolvers at gun ranges, the “bad guy” being a black silhouette. Like martial arts, this is fine if you are preparing for competition shooting.

In home defense scenarios the resident is immediately faced with a choice: Confrontation or concealment, the so-called “fight or flight” response. Despite the hours at the family friendly shooting range, many inexperienced residents are ill prepared to act on the confrontation choice – the shooting of a human versus the shooting of a paper target. Too often we read of tragedy when a family member is mistaken for an intruder. And, there are several problems with conventional bullet firing pistols and revolvers as home defense. A bullet requires true aim in a sudden, often darkened situation. When a firearm is discharged in such a situation (darkened and in close quarters) two factors work against the inexperienced shooter: Muzzle flash temporarily blinds the shooter; and, muzzle report temporarily stuns the shooter. The effect is similar to a mini stun grenade. If the first shot was not optimally effective, there is a gap time before the shooter can re-acquire the target. During that time the shooter cannot clearly see or hear the target moving about. Rapid fire, especially if it repeats the error of the first shot only compounds the problem, especially if the shooter is inexperienced in handling recoil drift.

Some residents appear to feel “the more gun, the better” and so choose assault rifles. Bad mistake. As compact as they often are, they are still clumsy in darkened close quarters. And, even when fitted with flash hiders, they merely diffuse the flash, still illuminating the area. The same holds for “silencers”. There are no silencers; there are suppressors, which diffuse the sound waves to disguise the point of origin and somewhat reduce the sharp blast. The average sound reduction is about 30 decibels. The result is similar to a barking cough, not a zipping sound.

All bullet firing weapons, long guns or handguns, share another problem: Over penetration. The calibers and loads often considered appropriate for home defense are such that they go through walls, including the studs on which the drywall is mounted. This puts others in the home, even neighboring homes at risk.

Since most in-home confrontations will occur within 15′, frequently in darkened settings, and with inexperienced residents, the best home defense choice is the .410 shotgun shell firing revolver in 5 or 6 shot configuration. Every ammunition manufacturer has rushed to provide this ammunition, in a variety of configurations. Those thinking .410s are for young boys shooting squirrels might note that, although the figures vary slightly by barrel length, .410 (00 Buck) rounds deliver 4 steel balls at 1,225 feet per second, each yielding 1,081 ft-lbs of energy at 15 feet. Yet, their wall penetration is minimal. If you can’t take down your attacker with 5, or even 6 of these you should have chosen concealment.

And now the aftermath. Unlike the movies, in which the shooting stops and people are either quietly dead, comfortably alive, or gracefully wounded (“It’s only a scratch”), and we do not typically see the wounded combatants writhing in pain, holding in their intestines, or calling for their mothers as they go into shock, reality is often very different. Inexperienced shooters, especially in their own homes sometimes yield to the impulse to rush to the aid of the person they shot. A wounded assailant may yet be a capable assailant. And, there is a mess to clean up. Head shots, and some torso hits, bleed profusely. By the time the police and paramedics arrive there may be substantial pools of blood and urine, already breaking down into constituent parts. The odor quickly permeates fabrics like carpeting, drapes and other furnishings. Blood is difficult to remove from fabric. The police and EMS have no role in clean up. If kind, they may refer the resident to a local professional service which attends to this. Those costs are borne by the resident. Also borne by the resident are any costs incurred in therapy for self and/or family members traumatized by the events. And, family members of the assailant, no matter the criminal judgment of the event, are not barred from filing civil suit against the shooter – as has happened in some cases. Very simply, the shooting part is only a focal point, not the whole picture.

This last point particularly applies to trained snipers. A film just now coming our purports to tell the story of “American Sniper”. Not having seen it, I would not say it does or does not.

Sniper School is long and grueling. Time spent on the firing range is only the proof of a very complex and drawn out regimen, including hours spent understanding optics, ambient temperature, windage – including variations between sniper and distant target, concealed travel, concealed positioning, collateral risk assessment, and safe extraction. The calculations are often so demanding that snipers operate in teams; a shooter and a spotter who does all the calculations for the shooter. But those calculations pale in comparison to those which go into the decision to take the shot.

Typically done at a distance, often approaching 2,000 meters, the sniper has the final say on whether the person in his sight picture is a valid target. As we saw all too often in Viet Nam, every dead Vietnamese was a dead Viet Cong – after the fact. A significant part of the ongoing PTSD suffered by Viet Nam vets is the lingering uncertainty and doubt over the validity of their actions and of those around them. That same doubt may plague a home defender for years.

In sum, most people obtaining firearms for “self or home defense” are selecting exactly the wrong firearms. As of this writing two manufacturers offer a five or six shot .410 gauge revolver. Pricey, yes. But what value do you place on your life and those you care for?

I have not written this as an anti-gun screed or a pro-gun primer. I have tried to put the (all too literal) flashpoint of taking a life into its full context. I offer no statement on whether it is right or wrong. My concern lies with the way the entertainment media, and even news reports, mislead the public into viewing killing events as a simplistic day at the county fair, pay a dollar and shoot the metal ducks off the conveyor belt. The Teddy Bear you win may be a 180lb bloody mess.

Gun Control

Gun Control

by Marco M. Pardi

In response to the recent spate of mass shootings I am re-posting this piece I originally posted in 2018. Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

DISCLOSURE:

I have been a gun owner since age 15. As a highly trained professional I carried various firearms for years. I currently have, and regularly use a Concealed Carry license.

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Some people like to say gun control is using both hands. Cute. But on a serious note, I am a strong advocate of gun control, as I will spell out below. I am also serious about getting guns out of the wrong hands. When I read or see television coverage of, say, two drug dealers shooting each other to death in a deal gone bad my reaction is: Two down, more to go. When I read of an armed robber shot dead by an armed citizen in a convenience store, or a home invader shot dead by the home owner it’s, Hooray for our side. And when a trophy hunter gets stomped by an elephant or munched by a lion or bear, it’s three cheers for the home team. You get the idea.

But I am also appalled by the very obvious poor training “sworn professionals” receive. The media are filled with examples of police officers using their firearms inappropriately, usually with fatal consequences. Less obvious are the risks one runs in going to a neighborhood shooting range. I’ve seen too many examples of inadequate or absent firearms safety and oversight, including among police officers. One can only wonder at the general civilian population and their capacity to safely handle firearms.

Having said all that, the United States have a problem with firearms. One sector of the population holds up the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as if the hand of God wrote it. Never mind that the Republican owned Supreme Court chose to overlook the part about “a well regulated militia”. Another sector, quite likely the majority, wants much more control over guns.

But control over guns is not the only answer, or even the best answer. There are already literally millions of guns in private hands. Imposing controls on the further distribution of guns, especially certain types such as “military style assault weapons” is a visible and partially effective measure. The production and sale of “assault weapons” should be banned. These are fantasy weapons, for adult children who want to play soldier; none of them are approved for military issue and use and only an idiot would keep one for “home defense” or hunting. But, I have some additional suggestions:

  1. Just as we license drivers, we must license all gun owners. The purchase of any firearm, of any kind, would require a license. This would be dependent upon successful completion of a thorough background check and a firearms safety course, paid for by the prospective gun owner. This license must be renewed every five years, all costs borne by the owner.
  2. So how do we enforce this? Enact federal law that no ammunition, of any kind or caliber, can be sold without the licensed seller verifying that the purchaser has a valid and current license. A firearm without ammunition is just an expensive paper weight.
  3. Extend these laws to private sales. Gunshows are highly valued by people wanting to get around background checks. One can go into a gun show, approach a dealer or a private individual who has rented a booth, and “step outside the show” for an unregistered purchase of a gun seen inside the show. So, specify that violation of the federal law banning the sale of a firearm or ammunition to an unlicensed individual carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
    1. There is a significant home industry in re-loadingammunition. Subject the sale of equipment and supplies, such as bullets, primers, and propellants to the same licensing requirement spelled out above.
    2. There is a growing interest in and ability to fabricate firearms from synthetic materials by using 3-D printers. Declare the manufacture, possession, or sale of these firearms to be illegal under federal law and carrying a mandatory prison sentence.

Many readers will say these measures do not address the problem of so many guns and so much ammunition already out there. That is largely true. But it is completely true that going apartment to apartment and house to house to register or confiscate these materials is out of the question. Would you like to do it? I bet not. Instead, we are faced with the classic Pig in the Python, the pig being the ammunition and the python being the guns. As the existing ammunition is used the pig moves through the python coming out the other end as useless shell casings. When people use all their ammunition and find they cannot acquire more without a thorough background check and license the frequency of use will decline. Eventually, if the laws are enforced, the problem will solve itself. Some people may dislike that word “eventually”. Welcome to the real world.

For now, the “real” world of America is the unreal world generated by Hollywood and fiction books. It is the armed frontiersman, the itinerant armed cowboy on the ever present horse, the homesteaders who are crack shots. Of course, none of these ever seems to run out of ammunition. The 2nd Amendment was written during the times of flintlock muskets. It had a very specific political goal in mind, and it had specific conditions attached. Contrast that with National Rifle Association practices which enroll children as young as six and place little or no limits on the types of available firearms.

Some people will say my suggestions are Draconian and will hurt the responsible gun owners. Let me personally assure you of something: Getting shot hurts a lot worse.

I’ve kept this entry short because I do not want to turn away the reader with arcane discussions about weapons technology or Byzantine legal systems. I also hope that, since it is short but to the point, readers will take the initiative to respond.

Balanced Diet

Balanced Diet

by Marco M. Pardi

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Aphorismes pour servir de prolegomenes. (4), Physiologie du gods. 1825

Feel free to comment, even if your mouth is full.

United Nations population data tell us the world population increased by 30% (1.6 billion humans) between 1990 and 2010. Yet, the growth rate has fallen dramatically and continues to fall.

Between 1970 and 2010 wildlife has declined by 60%, with the average loss among surviving species at 68%. The greatest declines have been in Latin America with an average decline of 94%. The primary drivers are: Humans exploiting more food sources among wild animals; humans destroying more habitat through converting wilderness areas into farmland to grow single crops; and exploring for fossil fuel resources and precious metals. Additional drivers are humans killing wildlife for parts from which to make trinkets, spurious medicines, and trophies.

What is the logical takeaway from this information? Humans are destroying life on this planet. And from that we derive, humans are the stupidest kind of predators; they destroy that which they prey upon. And in the process they destroy themselves. Oh yes, they grow their own food sources – on farms poisoned with pesticides and herd animals filled with antibiotics.

Ever driven near a factory farm where the sewage runoff is collected in open air reservoirs? Yes, the smell will bring you to vomit. But that’s not all. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 05.14.2021 annual deaths directly attributed to agriculture across the United States are as follows:

Deaths from emissions connected to Meat production.

Beef – 4,000; Pork – 3,300; Dairy – 1,800; Feed Exports – 1,200; Other Meat – 500. Total: 12,700 annual deaths.

Deaths connected to growing/processing Plants.

Grain – 800; Sugar – 800; Crop Exports – 600; Oils – 300; Other Plant Based – 600; Bio-fuel – 1,200; Other Non-Food – 800. Total: 5,200 annual deaths.

The emissions from the animal factory and feed lot sewage ponds include: methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. In one SouthEastern U.S. county 98 deaths in surrounding areas were directly linked to the air pollution emanating from food production.

All those emissions added up to make meat the biggest source of deadly emissions, Hill said. Per serving, the rate of air-pollution deaths linked to red meat was twice as high as that of eggs, three times as high as that of dairy, and at least 15 times as high as that of all fruits and vegetables.” Ibid.

The EAT-LANCET Commission just produced a study showing “that plant-based diets could reduce air quality-related deaths by as much as 83 percent. Substituting poultry for red meat could prevent 6,300 annual deaths and 10,700 “could be achieved from more ambitious shifts to vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian diets such as the planetary health diet”.

And the mortality figures above cover only deaths resulting from the pollution generated by food production, not the result of eating the stuff. It’s hard to understand that there are still people who neither know nor care about the grim association of cancer with red meat, heart disease with fatty meats, dementia from clogged arteries, and the numerous other results of eating meat. Some might say stupidity is a way of culling the herd, the human herd.

But before we go further, let’s be clear about something. Nature is never in balance. If it ever had been in balance evolution would have stopped. And it is not in balance now, as anyone with an I.Q. over the ambient temperature should know. People ask, If evolution is still going on why are there still Apes? Why haven’t they all become people? The easy answer is that they are smart enough not to. But the scientific answer is that: Humans did not evolve from what we see as modern Apes; humans evolved from a common ancestor along with what is now the modern Ape. The populations we see now are those which reached adaptation to their environment, including diseases and predators. Yes, we still have a few people who believe in “supernatural Creation”, the spontaneous appearance of all plant and animal life just as we now see it. Fortunately, rational thought is gaining ground.

That rational thought, and the blend of biological and cultural evolution which characterizes Man, was on display when the young Dalai Lama and his entourage fled Tibet for India. On arrival they were given safe haven in a Hindu monastery. Hindu diets vary considerably but some form of vegetarianism has been known since at least 700 B.C.E. This particular monastery was strictly vegan; that is, they eschewed all animal products in any form. The Tibetans, most of whom were adults who had practiced a liberal form of vegetarianism, wanted to convey their appreciation for the sanctuary and tried to immediately convert to the very strict veganism. Very quickly their health suffered dramatically. They soon realized they had to establish their own monastery and did so.

Having studied monasteries and other communal forms of living I wondered how the Tibetans obtain their meat products. Do they raise and slaughter livestock? If so, how do they rationalize it? Do they take only milk from livestock? If so, what do they do with the offspring that is dependent upon that milk? Or do they shop in markets for meat products others have provided, like Americans at the meat counter who have never seen an intact, living cow, at the dairy department completely ignorant of how milk products are obtained and what is done with the offspring?

I remember the advertising gimmick of the Borden Dairy company; A milk carton with a picture of Elsie the Cow. Elsie encouraged children to drink milk, telling them she loved them…..while they ate their hamburgers.

There is no gracious way to describe the slaughter process, though it is often disguised in myth and shrouded with religious approval. I had a college friend who worked in a Kansas City meat packing plant. He never ate meat again. A quick glance at three separate slaughter methods provides the contrast between Muslim and Jewish versus Hindu slaughter:

Muslim:

The animal must be facing the Kaabaa, the holy place of Muslims.

  1. The slaughter must be done by a Muslim only.
  2. Kalma must be recited during the slaughter.

3.Most importantly, only the carotid artery and the trachea of the animal must be slit and the animal must bleed to death.* Satyameva. 2021.

Jewish:

Kosher slaughter, or shechita, is performed by a person known as a shochet, who has received special education and instruction in the requirements of shechita. The shochet kills the animal with a deep stroke across the throat with a sharp knife.* PETA.org.

Hindu:

Hindu slaughter is: Jhatka, the beheading of the animal in a single stroke.

I’ve seen Muslim Halal and Hindu Jhatka slaughter, but not Jewish Kosher. I’m told Kosher is practically identical to Muslim Halal; The animals are fully conscious and stagger around slipping and falling in their own blood. I’ve seen that with Muslim lambs, donkeys, and camels. I contrast that with a clean, instant decapitation I’ve seen of a young water buffalo. None of the events were pleasant or easily tolerable, but the Hindu practice was the more acceptable.

American slaughter houses use the stun, shackle, hang upside down, and bleed method on cattle and pigs. It differs from halal and kosher only in the initial stun which presumably renders the animal senseless.

By now some may be wondering about alternatives to meat acquired through the feed lot/slaughter process. And, aside from ethical concerns, one might wonder about nutritional value. Personally, I think the strict vegan diet, using no meat or animal associated products of any kind, is quite dangerous for people not deeply schooled in the dietary requirements of the human animal. Even then, transition to such a diet must be under careful supervision.

Those concerned about the barbaric process of crowding animals into pens, crates and other enclosures to wait for execution might be careful to ascertain that they are getting only free range poultry and wild caught fish.

It seems the common sense diet is composed mainly of various vegetable matter, especially leafy, green vegetables, various legumes, of which there are many, with regular but small helpings of poultry or fish.

No matter which diet is your preference you will soon be faced with fundamental changes in options available to you. Climate change is a reality and is accelerating well beyond previous projections. Consequently, growing patterns are already shifting as drought settles in to some areas and flooding into others. This affects not only the immediate crops we rely on for food but also the crops we rely on for livestock feed. Some foods will become scarce, if available at all, and much more expensive.

Another consequence is the shifting and intensifying patterns of weather conducive to an explosion in the number and variety of insects and other organisms living off those same crops. Since so many humans continually show themselves to be too ignorant, too stupid, or too uncaring to recognize climate change and address it they are increasingly relying on severely toxic pesticides with little or no long term track record for safety. Yet we have known since the days of Charles Darwin, if not Gregor Mendel that killing off part of a population only fosters a stronger next generation needing yet more powerful pesticides. And still, the craving for meat is driving more burning of rainforests, the lungs of the planet, to clear land for cattle and pig feed.

Changes in annual snowfall and rapid recession of glaciers are already displacing massive amounts of climate refugees around the world as age old reliable sources of water dry up. Geo-politics are changing dramatically as climate change dictates who has the power to grow food and who does not.

Some readers having come this far may be thinking it’s time to gobble down everything they like or want to try. After all, we’re going to starve soon. I would suggest one should weigh the consequences on future generations, however reduced in size those coming generations may be. But foremost in my mind are those, including all non-human life, which suffer and perish for the dietary whims of a relatively few organisms called Humankind.

Weigh that out; weigh the up side of your dietary choices against the down side of the consequences. The result is what I might think of as a balanced diet.

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa

by Marco M. Pardi

Introduction: (This post was mistakenly deleted. It has been re-posted without changes.)

In response to increasing interest in two pieces posted several years ago we are releasing them again. Readers of the earlier posts will note that the two entries have been merged, as would have been done originally had there not been page limits on the manual produced for classroom work. Reflections was copyrighted in 1978 and again in 2014. Zep Tepi was copyrighted in 2014. Readers are welcome to decide if this is fact or fiction.

We very sincerely hope you enjoy this journey, and that it inspires you to comment on the site (there are no risks in doing so). We also hope you will forward this site to those who might enjoy and benefit from its many offerings.

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A baby lay in its cradle, placed upon a sunlit terrace in the cool blue of the morning. Gazing into the blue mist, seeing clouds as reference points among the hues, the child felt, without knowing, the rim of the cradle sun shade, the clouds, the hues of sky and deep sky as a plane upon which he existed; a point lying within what was at first glance, merely out there. By turning his head he could see the crystalline shatter of the sun’s light coming through the black silk of the shade. And in the same, but a different way, the hues, the intensity, which took meaning only by their relationship with all else. And he knew his body as being. He knew his being in the warmth of sun-drenched blankets and the cool shade of the deep, deep sky; the blackness which was the balance of the sun. Too black to see, too bright to see, but holding him in the joined love and harmony of essence, of oneness. And it was as it was for all things at that moment.

Many moments… and a small boy in a military uniform ran and walked and ran down a long slope of thick green grass. To his left was a line of tall trees. The leaves intertwined to form a solid barrier to eyes that looked but did not see. They waved and chattered in the gentle breeze of the sunlit afternoon. In winter they stood mute and quivered in the thrill of the silent, cold, and white shrouded landscape. The boy’s destination lay several hundred yards ahead. It was a creek. Not a special creek. It twisted and bobbed up and down as creeks do. It came from nowhere and went nowhere, as creeks are.

Every afternoon, unless the rain was so heavy that he was kept inside, the little boy, who was the youngest and smallest in the military academy, ran unhesitatingly from the asphalt playground outside the school building down the hill to the creek. In winter he could dive onto his sled and streak through the crackling snow like a swallow swooping low over the tops of tall grass. He never went to the creek; he always came back to it. He sat in classrooms in the main building; he learned atop the rounded boulders in and around the creek.

As he walked down the slope the squeaking swing chains, the banging of seesaws on asphalt, and the shouts of children living in games merged and faded behind him. He watched the ground, the grass, the bugs, the trees, the sky. Not looking for anything, just watching. In the fall the creek was just beginning to show life. Cooler weather and storms brought it forth. The water gurgled and gushed by, seemingly enjoying itself, but without guilt. As the days grew shorter the trees grew orange and brown and red. Stronger winds carried leaves into the water and they spun by atop the waves and bubbles. But there was something there. There was an undefinable balance. A celebration of the course of nature; the separation from the mother tree. And the vague and murky concern for what is to happen. Where will the leaves go? It was the sour joy of being in time.

As winter came quietly closer the leaves became fewer, and delicate layers of crystalline ice formed along the edges of the creek. All nature slowly hushed as the vibrant greens, yellows, and reds evolved into browns, greys, and an increasingly large mantle of white. A cold sun shone through the nude, brown patches in deep sleep. The creek was covered by ice now, but it was there. It was always there. Now the bright colors of nature were to be seen by joyously diving into glistening snowdrifts until the melting snow dropped dozens of watery prisms from young eyelashes into eyes that could see. And the biting cold was a friendly reminder, a lesson from nature, a hint of that which balances what we call life. And without sorrow or joy. With simple and open forthrightness for those who see. There was unspeakable excitement in courting the cold. In wondering where one would go, and what one would be. Winter froze life in the tracks left in the snow and gradually shifted those tracks until they were gone.

And then the snow lost its strength. It sagged and dripped before an oncoming sun. The world of white was growing increasingly brown with living mud. The creek was running now with melted snow. This was where the snow went. This was what it was then. And soon the last of the ice would give way to the gushing, roaring tumult of life bursting forth in the creek, in the trees, in the air itself. The muffled presence of winter was overcome by songbirds, insects and gushing water. One could almost hear the sap bubbling through the trees and bursting out as leaves bright and green and joyous. The rites of Spring were being celebrated all around.

One day, while running to the creek, Tonio felt the tree line calling. His footsteps slowly waivered, then definitely followed him to the base of a particular tree. There was something to be known there. As he drew closer he became aware that, as if in slow motion, he was at once looking at a cat and gliding down into a relaxed sitting position by the cat. The cat was too relaxed. It lay on its side; legs and neck outstretched as if in sleep. Its face was almost tucked into the crook of a gnarled root from the great tree which was hovering over its students. Ribs showed through the fluffed fur. Fur that had been cared for by the winds and rain. Milky, sagging eyes gazed out beyond the root and into the deepening hues of the blue sky. Fleeting images. The earth and blue. Clouds and a root. There were no sounds within the boy. A sky, a tree, a cat, a boy were wordlessly one. No joy, no sorrow. In being. And there was a gurgling from the creek.

Toward the end of the school year the late spring rains meant spending recess in the gym. While others played “battle ball” or some such game, Tonio caressed, and reluctantly threw a basketball at one of the baskets in the far corner of the gym. The ball had been a Christmas gift from his family. Faces were hard to remember, but he could always recall the voice that he heard on an occasional Friday afternoon telephone call. He knew they were far away. The ball was there though. He was reluctant to throw it at the basket; it felt good in his arms.

Suddenly the ball was wrenched from him and as he turned he saw a much older boy dancing and grinning, taunting him with the ball.  Tonio stood transfixed with shock which quickly turned to horror.  This older boy had led the others in dancing around him and taunting him by singing the song, “Baby Face.”  He was the bully who would punch boys in the stomach or kick them during close order drills.  The old Army captain never saw him do it.  He often saw a boy bent over or kicking back and gave the bully’s victim an additional thrashing.  The deepest despair became strongest resolution to destroy the monster.  The young boy was only two steps from the rack in which the wooden practice rifles were kept.  In a move undefined by time he perceived the back of the older boy as he had turned to run.  The young boy knew that his arms were bringing a rifle, stock first, in full swing toward the fleeting back.  In an instant the rifle crashed against the older boy.  The force sent half a broken rifle skittering across the gym floor, and the large boy slamming to his face.  The ball was no longer in sight, no longer in mind.  The barrel end disappeared from the young boy’s hands, and, as quickly, a new rifle appeared.  Again his body knew itself in full swing as the butt end of the rifle went streaking through a high arc over his head.  As the older boy rolled over on his back, blood streaming from his nose, a second rifle butt smashed into the gym floor where his head had been.  The older boy was showered with splinters from a second broken rifle.  Hands grasped and arms clenched Tonio until, in his rage, his captors held only his body.  he could not see through his tears, he could not hear through his sobs; he was totally alone.

The next morning, in that same gym, the student body was mustered in full military formation.  A dusty looking old captain stood stiffly in front of the cadets and read off the charges against the young boy.  There had been no hearing.  A kindly nun had sat with him a while during the night.  But this was the day of infamy.  As the captain droned on, the boy watched the sun filter through the metal grates over the gym windows.  For the first time he saw in them another meaning.  Then he heard the command to “Front and Center.”  Having so intensely seen himself as front and center up until then, he had no idea why it took so many steps to get there.  He gazed at the silver bars on the captain’s coat as the older man solemnly pronounced him stripped of his rank and confined to the dormitories.  He watched quietly as scissors clipped away his one black stripe from each arm of the gray uniform.  They fell onto the gym floor.  And were barely visible any longer.  The captain ordered him dismissed from the assembled corps to begin his confinement.  As he marched through the companies of faceless boys he knew he should be sorry, he should feel badly.  But his arms were actually lighter.  In singling him out as a failure, the captain had freed him from this nameless mass.  He had an identity.  The voice on the phone changed after that.  It was never the same.  But the bubbling creek knew.  And it laughed with him in wordless love.  The young boy felt old.  He felt trapped in a little body but aware of so much more than even the bigger bodies were aware of.  He wondered what he was to become.  Years would pass.

The mid-September dawn came quietly over Firenze, as if looking for something and hoping not to be noticed. Five weeks short of his 8th birthday, Tonio hopped down the outside steps into the garden. Skirting the large concrete fish pond and fountain, he ran to the base of the high wall separating the property from the street.

Over three months before, his family had packed up everything in Ohio and moved back to Italy.  Grandfather, grandmother, mother, older brother and Tonio had come by ship to spend at least two years in grandfather’s home town.  At first Tonio had missed the monastic boarding school, deep in the northern Ohio woods where he had spent the last two years. He had made a friend there, an odd kid whom the other boys also picked on.  But Tonio’s grandfather seemed to be a friend; at least, unlike the others he actually engaged Tonio in short conversations. And he once took the boys into Firenze to the Thieves’ Market, where they had fresh ham sandwiches and Tonio saw his first amputee. Sitting on a rickety wheelchair, a war veteran waggled the stumps of his legs as he held out a tin cup for donations.

The summer months were eventful from the start. Moving into the large villa they had leased, unpacking twenty four steamer trunks and getting things situated had been greatly facilitated by the household staff. Elvira (el-VEE-rah) prepared three meals daily, her husband “Beppino” performed a variety of heavier chores, and their daughter Anna functioned as maid.

Occasionally, Beppino’s brother Ugo would come by to spend time working in the garden. A Partisan fighter in the war, Ugo’s hands had been cut off at the wrist and Tonio watched him as he hooked pails of water over his forearms and went about watering plants.

Tonio and his brother were quickly handed over to Signora Broglio, a widow whose physician husband had been killed fighting Germans as part of Italy’s elite Alpine troops. Sra. Broglio came daily in her Lancia to pick up the boys for the day and refresh their Italian up to grade standards for their entry into school.  As they drove from the villa into Firenze she would point out various buildings and have the boys recite, in Italian, what they could of the history before them. Tonio was fascinated by the number of buildings with numerous bullet holes and other damage. Crews worked slowly each day to patch them. One day Sra Broglio had pointed out that there was a large monastery in the deep forests covering the nearby Apennine mountains. Excited by this enthralling news, Tonio asked to hear more. However, like many Italians aware of the Church’s support for the Axis, she said no more about it. 

In the first couple of days after moving in Tonio had discovered a tortoise living in the garden, near the wall.  Thinking at first it was a large rock, Tonio decided to name it Petra, after the stronghold in southwestern Jordan carved largely from rock. He also decided Petra was female. Beppino told him a tortoise would like fresh lettuce. So, every morning Tonio would bring lettuce to Petra and lay it before her shell, wherein she always took refuge at his arrival. He would lie down nearby, watching and sometimes whispering to her until she cautiously peeked out and nibbled. She never seemed to look at him, but always knew he was there.

A few weeks after they had settled into a routine at the villa, Tonio saw the daily newspaper. The headline for June 26, 1950 announced that North Korea had invaded the south the day before. A few years after the last bombs and bullets had scarred Firenze, the world was being dragged into violence again. Born in Rome, and having survived the war there, Tonio wondered if this was the nature of life, if this was his future.

As summer progressed, adult relatives came, quietly discussed the Korean situation, and left. Even the staff seemed distracted, as if they expected the family to leave at any moment. One of the adults had brought Tonio and his brother a pair of model sailboats, sparking their first real adventure at the fountain. Unknown to them before, a pair of large eels owned that water. As they launched their boats the eels darted away, hesitated, and fell into line behind the boats. Waiting, watching for a careless crewman to fall from the deck. More weeks passed, more lettuce talks with Petra, and a rapidly growing ability in Italian.

Grandfather announced one morning he had to go into Firenze for the day, returning late that evening. The day went as usual. But, as time for the evening meal drew near, Tonio was suddenly overcome with a feeling of deep exhaustion; he needed to lie down and sleep. Elvira looked at him carefully, but no one else minded as he went to his bed and laid down.   

Immediately as he closed his eyes Tonio felt propelled into utter blackness. Feeling more awake and clear than he ever had, he looked back in the direction from which he felt he was traveling and saw what appeared to be Earth, receding in the distance. It was then he discovered he had no body.

What’s happening? Where am I?”, he thought.

Calm down. We’ve done this before. The voice in his mind was his, but somehow different. When you were two you got a virus that almost killed you. At 2 1/2 you got whooping cough and there was no effective medicine because of the war.

Who are you?”

I am you, the real you, the you that people call spirit, soul, essence, and other things.

But I, we, have no body.”

We don’t need one now. We are the real you. Nothing has been lost. Was that man at the market any less who he was for having no legs? Is Ugo not really or fully Ugo because he lost his hands?

Where are we going?”

Nowhere. There is no place to go. The vision you had of Earth, the sense of movement you had, were just symbols to help you understand the shedding of attachment to physical things, and what you think of as real.

At that moment Tonio sensed a presence, a person beside him. But this presence had no gender, no form, and no age. Still, he knew it was a human and he felt it was “dead” and “alive” at the same time, but the person was confused.

Who is that?”

That’s unimportant now. It is important that you be with this person.

Suddenly Tonio saw a ball of orange light in the blackness. He could not tell if it was a small light up close or a big light far away. As it grew in size, he could not tell if it was indeed growing or if they were moving closer.

What’s that? Is that God?”

There is God, there is no God. God is nothing, no thing is God. God is everywhere, God is no where. There is no thing you can point to and say it is God. Putting God in one place or person, with likes and dislikes, is taking God out of everywhere and everything else. Even thinking the word God limits God to the meaning you have put on that word. God is like the water to the eels. Do they know they are in water? People make Gods. Then they claim to know what the Gods like or dislike. The reason is simple: Those in charge of knowing God’s likes or dislikes are in charge of judging people’s behavior; it gives them power over other people.

So we aren’t going to heaven?”

No such place as heaven or hell. Think of those words as you just now thought of the word God. Those words are made up of what we like and what we don’t like. Your heaven could be someone else’s hell.

Why are we here? Why are we doing this?”

Because you and this person are inter-connected. We are all inter-connected, but you will sense this in only a few cases. We will do this many, many times throughout your physical life. Some of these people you will know, many you won’t. This person is shedding the attachments to the physical. You are one of those attachments. Being here allows that person understand the transition and accept it.

Do other people do this, like we are now?”

Some people are born asleep and stay asleep. Others are born awake and are put to sleep by society. Some are born asleep and awaken at some point, often suffering for it. A few are born awake and remain awake. Those few are almost never known, never understood.

Are we dying now?”

It is not our time.

As those last words were spoken, the unseen person next to Tonio seemed to pass on ahead, moving into the light. Immediately as he recognized this, Tonio awoke on his bed. Being early evening, it was still quite light out.

Tonio lay on his bed, completely recovered from the sudden tiredness which had brought him there, but so deep in thought that getting up or lying still was not yet an issue. But in less than an hour, outside his room he heard the telephone ring and a rush of voices soon thereafter.

Within minutes his mother opened his door and, seeing him awake, told him his grandfather had collapsed and died in a hotel lobby in the city. He looked at her, saying nothing.

After his mother had left for the hospital to which his grandfather had been taken, Tonio arose and quietly entered the kitchen for some of the dinner he had missed. The household staff were still there, but they were busy hovering near his grandmother and his brother.  He gathered up some left-overs into a basket and, suddenly thinking of something, included some lettuce.

With evening darkening, Tonio slipped out into the garden, skirted the fountain, and went quickly to Petra’s area by the enclosure wall. Choosing the cover of some bushes to reduce his visibility from the house, he sat and looked for Petra.

For the first time, he did not have to go to her. She came toward him with greater speed than he would have thought possible, craning her neck fully out of her shell and seeming to look straight at him. He put the lettuce before her, but she held her head erect, just looking at him.

As darkness fell Tonio quickly finished his food and went back into the house. Unnoticed by anyone, he went back to his room to think. What had happened to him? Why did Petra behave the way she did?

Over the next few days Tonio stayed out of the way as people came to negotiate the breaking of the lease, distant family and friends came to console the widow and her daughter, and a man came from the American Embassy in Rome to prepare the family for a problem on the return to the U.S.

The Embassy official – Tonio did not know his exact duties but he seemed to be an old family friend, explained that since Tonio’s grandfather had been such an immensely wealthy man the family would get extra scrutiny from Customs and the Internal Revenue Service would assign two agents to oversee any and all banking transactions conducted on the grandfather’s accounts.

Tonio had no idea what the Internal Revenue Service was, or did. But, he was pretty sure he would recognize the agents. Eels.

The evening before they were to leave, Elvira asked his mother how Tonio was handling the death. With Tonio standing nearby, his mother had simply dismissed the progress he had made in Italian and answered her that, “Tonio does not understand death.” Touching her finger to the side of her head, she said, “He is pretty slow here. But, he is strong, and when he is old enough the Army can take him and keep him.” Elvira looked at him, something in her eyes he had not seen before.

And so it was that, at that mid-September dawn, Tonio hurried into the garden to say Good-bye to his beloved Petra. She was there. She seemed to be waiting. And, Tonio could not tell if it was the dew, or if she had tears in her eyes.  

Many moments later… and a young man in a camouflage fatigue uniform walked slowly along a trail between rows of ammunition bunkers.  He had volunteered for assignment to a secret army installation in Central Africa.  During the time when Sub-Saharan African nations were gaining independence dozens of factions roamed the countryside in power struggles for control of the emerging governments.  United Nations “peace keepers” were sent into the more troublesome areas.  One of these was the Belgian Congo.

The main base was on the coast of North Africa, situated where the right hand of the Sahara touched the Mediterranean Sea.  A few miles to the east of Tripoli, it was a perfect setting for an old Burt Lancaster film.  Tripoli was an unofficially divided city.  Separated by a high wall, the original city wall, were the Old City and the New City.  The New City was built mainly during Italian and British occupation.  The blend of these cultures was reflected in the architecture and the racing traffic; the honking donkeys and Fiats.  In the Old City no streets were wide enough for cars.  Traffic was almost exclusively pedestrian, except for an occasional donkey or Moto Guzzi motorcycle.  Here the streets were named for the occupations of the shopkeepers who filled them with the din of their workmanship and the excitement of their bartering.  Although one had to be extremely careful to avert one’s eyes from occasional “Fatimas,” or Moslem women, one could always expect to be sincerely engaged in friendly greetings and small talk with shopkeepers who spent much of their time in the cool of the shaded streets.  In marked contrast to the New City, the people of the Old City dressed exclusively in the traditional robes.  An outsider was immediately obvious, even in the near total darkness, by the profile of his clothing.  The Old City was “off limits” to all American and British personnel after dark.  Too many G.I.’s mistakenly believed their dollars could buy them anything.  Their bodies floated mutely about the harbour in the early mornings. 

The young man squatted to the side of the trail, eyes sweeping the horizon for silhouettes, ears straining for unusual noises, or unusual stillness.  While he waited in the blackness for the other three strike team members to catch up to him he thought of the many nights he had spent wandering the Old City alone.  He had no fear of being caught by the Town Patrol.  Being in Special Security was something of a stigma.  The rest of the base personnel knew who these men were by their camouflage uniforms and the distinctive hardware on their web belts.  The young man had noticed that people on base always gave him and the others more room on the sidewalk than they needed.  And it was hard to get more than a passing glance out of fellow pedestrians.  He often wanted to stop someone on the street and ask them why.

He heard his team long before they saw them.  As usual, they were gossiping about all the other men in the unit.  Assignment to particular teams varied.  But one thing didn’t; each group cut hell of everyone not on it, all night long.  Although a team leader, Tonio’s strong dislike for the gossip drove him to take point alone rather than assign someone the dangerous job.  The others seemed to think he was just “gung-ho.”  He used to wonder what they said about him, but he long since ceased to care.  Whether in the jungle or on the desert he loved the chance to wander quietly and blend with the night environment.  But the trails were terrible risky.  On a moonlight night one could see, or be seen, clearly for several hundred yards.  The ammunition bunkers themselves made perfect ambush sites.  To lessen the risk of blowing themselves up and increase the chances of hitting their targets, the teams carried short barrel twelve gauge shotguns.  As team leader, the young man didn’t bother with one; he carried a .45 automatic and case knife instead.

 As the others drew closer, he let out his characteristic whistle before stepping out on the path.  They were only about 100 yards from a large ammo bunker which had been restocked earlier that week.  Stacked all about the place were empty Conex boxes; five foot steel cubes with hinged doors.  On rainy nights the teams would often sit it out in the boxes.  The attitude generally was that if anyone wanted the ammo badly enough to come for it in the rain, they could have it.  Unfortunately, the noise of a rainstorm on one of these boxes could get so extreme that every tribe in Africa could walk up at once without being heard.  If one were careful, he got soaked.

The team moved slowly as they approached the bunker.  Conversation dropped to curt business commands as maliciousness gave way to caution.  Carelessly slung shotguns came up at the ready a few paces from the boxes as silent hand signals from the team leader dispersed the group into the bunker.  The sounds of feet, clothing, and breathing grew fainter as the shadows slipped among the stacks of ammunition.

Suddenly, a shout and a shotgun blast triggered an insane symphony of roaring guns and voices.  In one movement Tonio dove on his face and pulled out his pistol.  But a smashing force landed flat atop him and began to scramble all over him.  In a convulsive jerk he spun over on his back only to feel a hammer-like object slam into his right forehead.  As if in a dream, he recalled prep school and Van Gogh.  He almost laughed as the urgency of the moment brought his now empty hands up to protect himself and to grab at anything that he could.  Crouched atop him, and poised for another blow, was a large torso.  In a single effort he pushed up with his hands and snapped up his knee.  As a groan and slight weakening of the torso encouraged him, he grabbed for its neck.  His fingers clamped on and his thumbs interlocked over cartilage.  Only then, when two steel hands clamped his wrists, did he realize his opponent was also unarmed.  He thought of his knife but it lay under him.  And now those hands were clawing his face, searching for his throat.  He pushed away and clamped tighter, his legs scrambling in the dirt like a giant lizard thrown on its back.  There was no time.  There were no sounds other than the gasping, grating, gurgling of two men locked in struggle.  The young man was adrift on a sea of green, in a field, some trees, the sky.  His hands, the sounds, the dripping and spitting saliva falling in his eyes, now falling from his mouth.  His gasping turned to sobbing, his arms and hands moved automatically as his thumbs crushed into a broken throat and his hands slammed a lifeless head against hard, parched ground.  His tears hid the torso he now sat astride.  He did not comprehend that its chest heaved only from the force he gave it.  And still he slammed the head with a dull thudding sound. 

Arms closed around him.  Friendly hands took his hands and carefully unlocked them.  He fell against two chests and sobbed as a feeling of nausea grew stronger within him.  His whole body trembled violently as he felt his hands and arms grow filthy.  His tears became a screen upon which played images of a bloody boy lying face up on a gym floor.  And a clean, cool creek whose holy water would wash away his sins, his memories, the blood no one could see.  He cried, for there was no creek. 

Many years later, by someone’s count, an old man walked slowly through a field.  There was no sign of human life in any direction.  He had left his car where a dirt road ended several miles away.  Behind him, through the years, he had left a trail of humanity:  a wife, a daughter, a son, their mates, two grandchildren.  To each he had felt a singular kind of closeness.  He was always amused by the cultural rules and plans for appropriate closeness in relationships.  During twenty-five years of teaching college students about humanity he often wondered why he spent time answering questions they would have never cared to ask.

As he slowly wandered through the knee-high grass he remembered the night his daughter was born.  He remembered the bittersweet feeling of being, as the doctor told him he was the father of a little girl.  She lay peacefully in her hospital crib, unmistakably “his,” but not even dimly aware of how alone she was.

Many nights he would slip into her room to watch her sleep, to listen to her precious breath.  As she grew older and came to know him he agonized over his intense desire to clutch her to him, to protect her; but he knew he must make her confident in her aloneness as well.  He sometimes wished he did not know so much about personality development; he was always figuring out what was best to do, and finding that things worked out anyway.

Over the years his wife had come to understand and accept his strange ways; above all, his intense need to be alone.  At first she thought this was rejection of her.  Perhaps another woman.  But after a time she came to know, if not understand, that the “other woman” was a quest for wholeness, a holy grail, a journey which could only be traveled alone.  In fact, she saw him quickly develop the ability to be very appealing to crowds of students and colleagues, but close only to a handful.  Even in that closeness, he was to everyone, alone.  Not unkindly so.  Just alone.  Sometimes the fact that he saw this ultimate principle in everyone else was disturbing to people.  There are certain unpleasantries in life that go untalked about.

The bright spring sun warmed his sinewy muscles and joints.  Now that his wife had fully realized the quest there was no more demand in her.  She was happy when they were together, but not at all threatened when they were apart.  His children loved him in the same way.  He would be with them as long as they were alive.  The grandchildren were very young yet.  Like the new growth on the trees and the flowers venturing trust in the fidelity of the sun.  They too would stand on their own some day.

The old man was glad for the sun.  He remembered nights when he was left alone in the house.  His wife and children would visit relatives while he stayed to work on lectures and papers.  On those nights, over the years, he had never been able to sleep completely until he saw the grey of dawn in the room.  He had never quite shaken a deep rooted, vague uneasiness in sleeping alone at night.  On a rational level he knew that having his wife and children in the house was of no help in an emergency.  But this dread had long since sunk beneath the clear water of reason.

A little tired and sleepy from walking, he allowed himself to be drawn down a gentle slope in the land.  In a sudden moment of joy he realized he was just not surprised to find himself heading toward a gurgling creek.  Stopping at the bank, he sat down on ground still moist with spring rains.  He watched the industrious crayfish and impetuous minnows for a while until the afternoon sun caressed his face into a serenity it had not known for dozens of years.  He slowly lay back, using an exposed tree root as his pillow, and closed his eyes.  A gentle breeze sprinkled him with drops of shade from the tree as the blue sky glowed orange through his eyelids.  The creek whispered to him of many things, for now he knew.  And he never had to fear darkness again.

Purpose

Purpose

by Marco M. Pardi

All of us are working together for the same end; some of us knowingly and purposefully, others unconsciously….To one man falls this share of the task, to another that; indeed, no small part is performed by that very malcontent who does all he can to hinder and undo the course of events.” Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. 6.42

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Ours is a world where people don’t know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.” Don Marquis

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In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild, and rough, and stubborn wood this was, which in my thought renews the fear!” Dante Alighieri,The Divine Comedy

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CAUTION: The subject matter and the quotes rendered herein may strike some readers as intense. This blog is read in many countries. We hope to gain from the perspectives readers would care to provide. Thus we strongly encourage reader participation through providing comments. These place the reader under no obligation and will be deeply appreciated.

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I debated the title. Should it be Purpose or should it be Meaning? I don’t see these concepts as synonymous; to me, purpose implies forethought and design while meaning may be de facto and/or simply ex post facto. That said, I chose Purpose. But if you find that to be insufficient in Meaning, feel free to think as you like. I will say I recoil when I see book or article titles encouraging me or purporting to show me how to find my purpose in life.

Long time readers may remember I previously wrote a post about a prep academy paper I wrote, The Man Who Had No Purpose. Literary critics often say a writer’s work springs from personal experience. That paper ratified their point. In my formative years no one in my family expressed the slightest interest in what I would one day become. Thus, unencumbered by the expectations and sense of purpose imposed by others, I was free, perhaps freer than at any time since. Each time I slipped out late at night to lie on my back and ponder the limitless entity we call the “universe” I was in a time of my own making, more than just what some would later call the NOW, limited only by my growing understanding of how small and insignificant I seemed in this celestial organism which I was sure had no knowledge of my existence, and never would.

Later, in the military, I spent most of my free moments reading nonfiction books on a variety of topics and taking various college courses. Gradually I discovered my interests and capabilities merged better in some areas than others but a “purpose” to my efforts was still hard to define. In fact, it was still unclear why I had to have a purpose. I did well in the military and could have stayed as a career, simply following orders. But some serious consideration of the “lifers” around me quickly put that to rest. And the last thing I wanted was to ascend into a bureaucracy where I had to exercise power over others. Inside, I was still free. Those lifers I examined had lost their inner freedom long ago. How many others, I wondered, wittingly or unwittingly traded their inner freedom for the rudiments of survival, or even the glories of accomplishing what someone else had defined for them as their purpose.

Somewhere in those years I came across the writings of Abraham Maslow, best known for his Hierarchy of Needs. Though often depicted as a pyramid, his scheme simply ascended from physiological need; safety; love/belonging; esteem; to self actualization. To this day it is regarded as deeply insightful and is used in government and private industry in the shaping of personnel policies. Readers can easily Google the hierarchy for deeper understanding. Germane to this discussion is the following quote: ‘Do you want to find out what you ought to be? Then find out who you are! ‘Become what thou art’. The description of what one ought to be is almost the same as the description of what one deeply is.’ (The Farther Reaches of Human Nature).

At the same time I was reading Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki and others, including Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha – Sanskrit: One who has accomplished a goal. Siddhartha Gautama was born around 567 B.C.E. and founded the philosophy which came to be known as Buddhism. I adamantly declare it a philosophy, not a religion, though I accept that many have adopted it as a religion. The inherent aim of Buddhism is the attainment of Enlightenment, not the worship of some god. I found this remarkably compatible with the direction taken by Maslow, seeking self-actualization. But Maslow went off the rails with his “Eupsychian (society)— a society geared towards the creation of self-actualized people.”(Jules Evans)

Had I known Maslow I would have suggested he read Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel, a fictional case study of an Esalen type enclave detached from the people who support it, not understanding them nor being understood by the common people. Christian monasteries run similar risks unless they can keep people convinced that they serve a purpose, such as reciting prayers that obtain the benevolent attention of some invisible god. So are these Christian monks “lifers” who have sold their freedom for a place to live and food to eat? I don’t think so. I can’t imagine it is possible to live such a life if one does not believe in its central premise. Buddhist monks, on the other hand, devote their efforts toward guiding the population toward enlightenment. Here too their efforts seem to bear little fruit. Is anything worth the effort? The Dalai Lama has said all paths lead to the same place. If so, why strive to identify the “right” path? Or should we sit back and content ourselves with the idea that the universe is a purposeless entity and we, ultimately, are just another extremely short lived manifestation of bio-chemical-electrical processes? Remember the 1970’s mantra, Eat healthy, exercise regularly, die anyway? Why not join the Hare Krishnas, pick up a tambourine, a saffron robe, and dance ’til you die?

For the past few years I have been quite fortunate in being accepted into an on-line discussion group composed of scholars and achievers in various fields, living mainly in Canada and the United States. The discussions are often atmospheres beyond what I feel I could offer.

A few days ago I sent around an article on Abraham Maslow. The article is far too long to reproduce here, but for reference it is:
Abraham Maslow, empirical spirituality and the crisis of values | by Jules Evans | Mar, 2021 | Medium

Within hours group members responded and a discussion developed. With their permission I am providing salient examples thereof:

(Brendan. Canada) Marco, thank you for that article. Although I knew of Maslow’s theories, I hadn’t delved into his personal life and was unaware of some of the early factors that shaped his ideas and opinions. These are giant issues that I struggle with at an intellectual level, such as, the meaning (if any) of morality. It seems to me that the concepts of “good” and “bad” are completely artificial, and in many cases, different societies differ on what they assign to these categories. It seems to me that the tribal instincts that served our species well in upgrading the intellectual capacity of our species, is now threatening to destroy us. As Isaac Asimov observed, “Our technology is growing faster than our intelligence.”

It seems that as science frees us from superstition, religion, and other forms of wishful thinking, we are coming to realize that life has no “meaning” and the universe has no purpose. As John Paul Sartre observed, “Life is drained of meaning when you have lost the illusion of being eternal.” This requires that we find a new reason to wake up every morning and take a few more steps in our journey toward death. The pursuit of self-actualization as proposed by Maslow, can help us to forget, temporarily, that our lives are meaningless but, in the final analysis, we have to come to terms with the meaninglessness of existence. Theoretical physicist Brian Greene in his recent book, “Until the end of Time”* states: “I have come to see my own awareness of my inevitable end as having considerable influence, but not having a blanket explanation, for everything I do.” Perhaps the Epicureans were onto something when they said, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.”

Excellent article that challenges us to evaluate our moral sense and its relation to our existence.

*Until the End of Time : Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene

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(Mary Ann. Canada) Beating your existential bongos while pondering the meaningless of life… “we are coming to realize that life has no ‘meaning’ and the universe has no purpose”…

‘Philosophy is a bond between you, a logic and something existing in explanations, while spirituality is a bond between you, conscience and something beyond explanations.

Spirituality is a matter of heart culture, of immeasurable strength.’

In Maslow’s article, it stated that empirical spirituality dismissed religious traditions and communities, and created free-floating rootless self-actualizers.

We are complex, evolving human beings who find meaning and purpose in connecting with others.

and……….. to embrace all aspects of ourselves and approach life with an open mind,

Einstein once said of the God question: ‘the problem is too vast for our limited minds’.

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(John. USA) I think Viktor Frankll would have something to say about this – in fact, meaning is everywhere, you just have to look for it – ( Self-Actualization is not the goal:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL8DyVusLeE)

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(Mary Ann. Canada) Frankl tells us that life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche…’as if it were a closed system’.

(Mike. USA) I cannot understand why people get upset when someone contends that life and the universe have no larger purpose. (1) What larger purpose could they possibly have? Life, the universe and everything–in Douglas Adams’s phrase–may be sentient, but not in any way we could ever even begin to understand; the same goes for any larger “purpose” we might want to imagine for them. (I reject the notion of “for the glory of God”; any god we could possibly comprehend is so small, so limited, as to be imperceptible in the face of the infinite. (2) Existence is surely purpose enough, and attempts at self-realization for the self-aware inhabitants of the universe. The expansion and refinement of the mind and soul must be more than enough to keep busy anyone and anything who ever lived.

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As I was writing this I remembered the Headmaster at my prep school and how he would berate me: “When are you going to
REALIZE your potential!?” Not a fan of being beaten with a cricket paddle I kept silent. But my unspoken response was, To what end, what purpose?

And so Dear Reader we invite your response, and your ideas of purpose. Please do inform us if you are a transient bio-chemical event, a meaningful shaper of cosmic events, or something in between.

Immaculate Infection

Immaculate Infection*

by Marco M. Pardi

*Title provided by Dana

Like any other major experience, illness actually changes us. How? Well, for one thing we are temporarily relieved from the pressure of meeting the world head-on…We enter a realm of introspection and self-analysis. We think soberly, perhaps for the first time, about our past and our future…Illness gives us that rarest thing in the world – a second chance, not only at health but at life itself.” Louis E. Bisch MD. 1937

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment.

Disease. Dis-ease. The harmonious state of the body is disturbed. One is not at ease. There are eleven major categories of disease, enough to make one feel ill. But we are currently concerned with infectious disease.

Before we start, however, it is interesting to note the history, and pre-history of human perceptions of disease in general. My early years as an Anthropology student happened to coincide with a growing popular interest in Non-Western medicine and the therapies among societies of Early Man. I collected several excellent books on the subject. But, failing to anticipate writing this piece in the current year 2021 I gave most, if not all those books to my older granddaughter as she excelled her way through a preparatory high school dedicated to medical science, an undergraduate college degree centered on Nutrition, a Masters of Medical Science, and now medical school in which she is in the top 10% of her class. Conversations with her are electric, even if bystanders drift away. (No, I don’t have one of those bumper stickers: Let me tell you about my grandchildren)

As we look at some of the interpretations of disease and the recommended therapies of long ago it is easy, too easy, to dismiss previous generations as ignorant or even primitive. In some cases it is certain that practitioners did not know why a therapy worked; but they knew it did work. Trial and error? Well, life was often pretty brutal for most of human existence. But one of the early practices which never made sense to me was bloodletting, slitting open a vein to allow the “bad humors” to drain away. Practiced in the West until the late 19th century, it possibly killed as many patients as it “cured”, though the “cure” was likely the mild euphoria felt from blood loss. Fortunately, we no longer do that except for very rare conditions. But terms and concepts have a way of hanging on.

One term which is still with us, and unlikely to leave, is Malaria. Derived from Latin roots, it is literally Mal (bad) aria (air) and originated during a period when people associated the fetid air of warm weather swamps with disease. They had no concept of mosquitoes carrying a parasitic organism and transmitting it through a bite.

Another concept with a long history, even a pre-history, is the idea that disease is a consequence of displeasing the god or gods. Surely this is not believed anywhere in modern societies? In fact, since the advent of HIV/AIDS it has been and is now a constant drumbeat in fundamentalist churches throughout the United States. The “SIN” of homosexuality hath wrought God’s vengeance upon the evil ones. How about that “loving God”? Real cuddly, no?

Those of us who grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s remember when cancer was thought to be contagious. And, even today, a cancer diagnosis often elicits the question, What did the person do wrong? My daughter had a kitten who died of lung cancer. No one in the home smoked, and she never caught the kitten smoking.

After a few years, during which the Reagan/Bush administration tried to maintain the myth that HIV/AIDS was a “homosexual disease” (question: “What does gay mean? Got AIDS yet?”), it became obvious it was easily and commonly transmitted by needle sharing, heterosexual sex, blood transfusion, and even organ donation. Yet the churches persist in disinformation to this day. Magical thinking finds a ready audience in the United States. But there was nothing magical in the discovery that HIV/AIDS was hitting hardest in the African-American and Latino communities. Still, the Reagan/Bush administrations stifled any efforts to develop prevention programs and funding for development of treatment was scant to non-existent.

That lack of funding didn’t stop those of us Feds assigned to state and local health departments. I handed condoms to STD patients like they were Halloween candy. In some cases, they were – flavored. But I continuously ran into resistance to accept the message: safer sex. I told HIV positive patients that they must use condoms to reduce the likelihood of transmitting what was then a fatal disease. I then explained that if I saw them in the clinic with another STD such as primary or secondary syphilis or gonorrhea I would know they had not used a condom. Of course, I saw them again. Over and over. Many of them explained their disease by claiming, “It must have jumped back on me.” Okay, I did walk further from the bushes lining the clinic sidewalk. Never can tell where an STD might be hiding. But without meaningful prevention resources there was not much I could do.

In those years, decades ago, we knew something else about minority communities, especially the African-American: Many of them held deep and erroneous beliefs and suspicions regarding government provided public health. These beliefs were based on misinformation about a long term practice conducted in Tuskegee, Alabama many years previously. In a horrendous betrayal of trust White researchers identified African-American men already infected with syphilis and, instead of treating them, followed them through the course of this often fatal disease. The misinformation was that the researchers actually infected the men with syphilis, an almost impossible feat without sexual contact. The Treponema pallidum spirochete is remarkably fragile as I learned by watching living specimens under Darkfield microscopy.

Ignorance of this medical fact coupled with centuries of being treated as disposable property cemented this belief into the population. I often had it thrown in my face when confronting patients and their sexual contacts. As a consequence, this population, among others, became what is known in epidemiologic circles as a “hard to reach” population.

A change of political party, to Democrat, in the White House brought a much needed stimulus to disease prevention and management. In fact, it was only under this other party that the federal Centers for Disease Control was able not only to add and Prevention to its title but also to develop strong prevention programs based on years of developed science.

But a return to the previous political party, Republican, brought the Dark Ages back. The ascendancy of the second Bush, son of the first mentioned above, ushered in another “gag” order on sexual health, especially in overseas outreach by Foreign Service Officers but also to suppress support for Planned Parenthood clinics in the U.S.. STDs, including HIV, climbed again. No surprise there. And, while federal funding for many prevention programs once again dried up, a new “evangelically based” effort to discredit science altogether swept onto the federal science establishment. Senior scientists, with cumulative centuries of experience and institutional memory, left in droves rather than have their names attached to “science papers” massively edited and skewed by the White House. The CDC faced serious succession planning problems. Who would be skilled enough to replace those scientists? Who could be trusted enough to practice actual science? In the meantime, a swarm of infectious diseases such as H1N1 and SARS swept the globe, complicated by the desperate movements of people displaced by climate change and a disastrously stupid invasion of Iraq and the consequences elsewhere.

Yet another change, to Democrat, of presidential administration brought in eight years of restoration of science and prevention programs across the board. Real progress was made. But eight years add up to less than an eye blink in the evolutionary march of disease. Disaster struck with the 2016 election of the Village Idiot or, as the Russians called him, the Useful Idiot as the Republican president. The man was so broadly ignorant, even stupid, that it would be erroneous to charge him with the planet destroying efforts of his administration. In every area but weapons development and fossil fuel extraction science was rolled back, sidelined, and openly scoffed at. The lasting damage to the environment and thereby all living beings on this planet has yet to be calculated largely because the momentum of those four years is still in motion.

But an immediate human toll can be calculated, the loss of life to the Corona virus. Dr. Deborah Birx, formerly the White House Corona Virus Response Coordinator, recently said publicly that, after the first 100,000 American deaths the rest (now well over 500,000) were largely preventable. So why did they happen? First, the incoming administration disposed of the thorough and complete pandemic response plan developed by the previous administration. Then the political party in power during the first year of the pandemic claimed: It was a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats to discredit the Republicans; it was nothing more than a flu; it would go away “like magic” with a change of weather; common safeguards would only bankrupt the U.S. economy; the then president mused it could be managed with ingestion and/or injection of bleach; invested tax money in millions of doses of an ineffective drug intended for malaria, boosting the stock market value for unnamed administration members; called for vaccine development with scant plans for distribution; called for States which had put lockdowns in place to “be freed”; and, the then president exhorted his mob rallies to call for the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the world’s leading expert on Infectious Diseases. Having deja vu? It quickly became clear the Corona virus was taking a far more serious toll on the African-American and Latino communities. Could anyone miss the implication that the slow walk adopted by the administration was a replay of the Reagan/Bush approach to HIV/AIDS? After all, this was the same administration tearing children out of the arms of immigrant parents.

The tactic of slow walking a response is not singular to the American Republican party. Readers will remember my efforts in the early 1990’s to address cholera in Latin America. As I was driving to various remote clinics in a particular country I asked the local physician with me why the government seemed to be unconcerned about the mounting death toll. His answer: “Well, only the Indians are dying of it anyway.”

Looking around the world we can easily see the almost unparalleled level of expenditure on military arms, not on beneficial and readily accessible medicine. If humans could ever realize their greatest enemy is ignorance and disease, not each other, we could reduce suicidal population growth, destruction of our natural environment, and control of diseases. Even after this pandemic is brought under control there will be another unless we wake up. In frank terms, the next pandemic will not be announced by an angel, nor will it “jump back on you”. It will come simply because our greed and ignorance have us looking in all the wrong places. It may come to you from an idiot who thinks not taking precautions is a political statement, an assertion of a “god given” right.

Speaking of looking, near where I did scuba diving off the coast of Oahu there’s a promontory that encapsulates a myth common throughout Polynesia: “The leaping place of souls”, from which the souls of the dead or near dead leap. The “good” souls leap to the right, into the night where they live among the stars; the “bad” souls to the left, into the “pit of eternal blackness”. We are standing on the promontory. We don’t have to be dead or dying to realize we have an ultimate choice before us. Leap for the stars.

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule

by Marco M. Pardi

The Golden Rule is of no use to you whatever unless you realize it’s your move.” Frank Crane, educator, as quoted in After, by Bruce Greyson MD.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are also open for comment.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” This is fundamental to every major religion from the ancient Egyptian texts to the Taoist T’ai-shang Kan-ying P’ien. Theists see it as a directive from God, non-theists as a self evident principle to live by. But when I first heard it I felt there were problems. Okay, since I have always observed closely and thought about what I had been presented, having questions was simply in character. That’s also why I work best when I work alone.

I also feel these problems are largely self evident. For example, “others”. Exactly who are we talking about? There are people out there who would initiate harm against you; for me, turning the other cheek just gives me more time to design my response. There are people out there who would kill you for the change in your pocket, even after you hand it to them. “Want a hug with that?”

Interestingly, hidden prejudices emerge when encountering others. African-Americans often cite the “tendency” of White males to touch their wallets and White females to clutch their purses closer as they close the distance between them on sidewalks or in stores. Recent interviews of career military disclosed that African-American males meet among themselves to learn “proper” decorum when around White peers or superior officers. They fear appearing intimidating.

Some interesting consequences emerge when these prejudices backfire. A federal agency uses handguns fitted with lasers instead of bullets for its clandestine officers to work through a very rapidly changing sequence of life sized images on a screen. The officers have seconds to view, assess, and respond to the images flashed before them. Here’s one I particularly like:

A reliable source indicates you have been blown and action is being taken against you now. As you walk down the street to meet with your exfiltration team, FLASH, three people appear coming around a corner toward you. One is a rather winsome young woman, her right arm around a young boy by her side and left arm hanging loose. She is looking slightly to one side. About three feet to one side and somewhat close behind is a young man who seems to be intently staring directly at you, his right hand behind his butt.

Assuming you’ve identified the hostile, you draw your weapon to fire. At whom?

If you chose the young man, you are dead. You missed the Makarov pistol clearly in the young woman’s left hand. Where’s the element of prejudice? The presumption that a young woman, particularly a comely one and one holding onto a young boy, would not be a skilled assassin. The young man was unarmed, and simply in a hurry to pass the woman depending on which side you and she would pass each other. Another possible element could be the presumption that all shooters are right handed.

Here’s one you are more likely to encounter. Years ago I had an informal gathering at my home of several of my older college students and their significant others. My living room was quite large but a few sat on the floor in a large circle. I sat on the raised fireplace threshold, with one male student sitting nearby with his wife in front of him. The male comported himself as a traditional “country boy”; his wife seemed more cosmopolitan. During the discussion his wife began to venture a comment. As she did so I saw the male surreptitiously cock a knuckle fist and drive it into her back. The pain was quite evident on her face.

To act or not to act? My immediate inclination was to strenuously object. But as no one else saw it happen I considered speaking to him privately. It did not take long for me to conclude that either course of action would result in a severe beating for his wife when they got home. Instead, when the opportunity arose I gave her what I hoped was a knowing look.

Close to a year later she came by my home, informed me she was just completing a divorce, and requested a recommendation letter for graduate school. I provided the letter. But I have no idea what else I may have provided.

In an earlier post I mentioned an experience I had in college. After a pouring rainstorm a disabled student, managing orthopedic crutches and books under his arm, slipped and fell. His books spread out on the grass. I ran over to help. He angrily waved me off, telling me he didn’t need help. I understood my action only after I had taken it. Thinking about it I realized I probably would have reacted the same way.

Nowadays, with word meanings and associated feelings changing so rapidly, it’s getting harder to know what to do in social interactions. Years ago – many years ago – I actually saw some women cast appreciative glances over me. I was not insulted, I did not feel violated. I had thought I was keeping myself in pretty good shape internally and maybe it was showing externally. I fully admit to having visually appreciated some women as well. I’ve even complimented female co-workers on a change in hairstyle or some new clothing. Years ago. I felt I had been treated nicely and I simply passed that feeling on. Years ago.

But now, with the Me Too movement sweeping the country, my inclination when a woman comes into sight is to quickly determine an exit route. Look at her? HOLY LAWSUIT, Batman!!! A multitude of Women’s Organizations would parade me through the streets in sackcloth with ashes on my head. UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! When a woman comes into my presence my shoelaces get my undivided attention.

So how do we know that what we would like done to us is what someone else would like done to them? How many times have well intentioned acts or comments brought negative consequences? And how many times have we been completely unaware of those consequences? Some people may say I over complicate things, but I shudder at glib wisdom.

Still, as I find myself increasingly older than most of the people I encounter, and I have more recollections of being “that age”, I think it is good to encourage people. Maybe one day I’ll earn the title “harmless old man”.

The poet Patricia Clafford said, “The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.” My work these days varies, but in the ultimate sense I’m my own boss. So I get to decide when it’s good to put the work aside and devote some time to the encouragement of others. Sure, there will be those who suspect that old man is being too interested in neighborhood children, or is daydreaming with women acquaintances about former days of sexual prowess. I can’t control the delusions of people around me. But I can still return the favor when someone tries to treat me as I would not have them do unto me. In the meantime, keep at it, Dear Reader. Life can sometimes go on for longer than you thought.

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